Life After Dental School ~ GPR vs Dental Associate? What's Right For You?

My journey as a practicing dentist began with my decision to complete a GPR in my home city, Minneapolis. I remember being somewhat torn between feeling that I 'should' complete a GPR/AGD and the feeling that I should jump right into private practice dentistry. During my senior year of dental school, I knew that had a desire to be a private practice dentist and eventually own my own practice. What I was not yet quite sure of was the path that would best get me to my end goal? Besides a few conversations here and there with adjunct clinical faculty (who were previously in private practice - now mostly retired)...I didn't really feel like I had support or resources to help guide me through the career decisions that would best move me down the path to successful practice ownership. I knew I needed to build my skills in advanced procedures (Endo, Surgery, Complex Treatment Planning)... Because dental school had woefully under trained me in these areas. At the University of Minnesota, most of our 'advanced' cases were farmed out to the specialty programs. Sound familiar? 

I am a huge advocate for the general dentist. My father is still a small town dentist who tackles a huge variety of cases. I wanted to train myself to be an advanced general dentist; one who was able to offer a wide variety of treatment options to my patients. This desire ultimately was the force that pushed me to pursue a GPR at the local VA Hospital. I knew that I would get one on one training in the specialties and get to tackle advanced cases (with supervision).  After the one year GPD, I did find that I had DRAMATICALLY increased my skill set as a young dentist. Completing the RIGHT GPR can increase your abilities exponentially, and can be one of the greatest decisions you make early in your dental career.

I do not believe that everyone must complete an advanced general dental training program; but, I do think that if your FUTURE goal is private practice ownership and you have a desire to be and expanded scope private practice dentist (It is my belief that practice ownership requires you to be trained in advanced procedures); then a good GPR/AGD would be the correct career decision after dental school. If you enjoy basic 'bread and butter dentistry', and want to work as an associate at a large group practice or corporate practice - then a GPR may not be necessary. You may be better off finding a location/practice that fits with your goals as an associate.

The path to finding a long term associate position is more about finding a group that treats you well, with patient you enjoy, in a location you are comfortable with, where you are compensated fairly. As an associate (especially in a big group or corporate practice), you will have less autonomy, less control over who you work with and what you work with...You'll have to conform to the practice culture rather that create it yourself, and you'll likely be compensated less than in practice ownership. But, associate positions definitely do have their perks...you don't have to worry much about staffing decisions, marketing, cash flow, regulations, scheduling; you can mostly just show up and focus on dentistry. And, when you're done for the day...you're done...no lingering practice worries hanging over your head. You can simply practice. That's the beauty of being a dental associate. If you want to develop more advanced clinical skill, you must make sure your group allows you to do so. Finding the right fit is difficult, but I have interviewed many practicing dentists that have found and enjoyed long term associate positions both in corporate and privately owned practice locations. Don't be worried if your first job isn't the right fit ( it probably won't be). To be honest, associates tend to move around a lot until they find what fits them best. Get out there and start doing dentistry. If the culture and style doesn't fit with you...start make a vision of what your 'ideal' associate position would look like. Then go out and find it!

As I mentioned earlier, if you want to simply practice bread and butter dentistry, an associate position after dental school is probably the best choice. If you have a desire for practice ownership or a desire to be an advanced general practitioner...a "good" GPR will give you the momentum you need to be successful.

I want to highlight a point...notice I keep saying "good" GPR? Not all GPR's will be a good fit for future practice owners and advanced general practitioners. I had the option of attending several hospital based residency programs (where you help take ER shifts, and learn more hospital based dentistry) Honestly, If you are planning to work in private practice...a 'hospital based' GPR will NOT be the right fit for you. Also, a rural community clinic style GPR program may not allow you to do the endo, implant, ortho and cosmetic cases that you need exposure to in order to succeed at achieving your career goals.

A 'good' GPR will have the patients that are actually seeking, willing and able to pay for advanced treatment cases. It will have faculty that can hold your hand and train you to tackle difficult cases. It will have specialty faculty that will train you to tackle more advanced ENDO, SURGERY AND IMPLANT CASES. That's the beauty of a great GPR...it's like world class CE courses many dentists pay tens of thousands for later in their careers; that you basically have access to in 1 program...in one year! You NEED the exposure early on in your careers to advanced cases and specialties...you NEED to have the confidence to start tackling them the MOMENT YOU HIT PRIVATE PRACTICE. If you do this, you will put yourself on the right career path and save yourself YEARS of 'catch up'. The reality in dentistry is: 'if you don't use it you lose it'...and many dental school graduates are under trained and under prepared for private practice. They don't have the confidence (or competence) to do molar endo, surgical extractions, full arch reconstruction or ortho, And so, they lose what little skills they did have...and often NEVER get them back. If this is NOT what you envision for your career - THEN GET YOURSELF TRAINED RIGHT AFTER DENTAL SCHOOL. 

For my career path (Practice Ownership and Advanced General Dentistry) - Here were the "right' steps: 

1) Dental School Graduation

2) A 'Great" GPR that  taught me an advanced skill set

3) A 'Great' Private Practice Associate Position ~ One that a) provided the right patients ~ which allowed me to 'practice' my new skills b) Gave me exposure to what a successful private dental practice looks like...and taught me basics of dental business, marketing and practice management.

4) Find the right practice opportunity, location and demographic to build and grow your OWN practice!

There are other paths that may be right for you, but I hope this helps you plan YOUR path to reach your end goal. Maybe you're lucky enough to know a phenomenally trained private practice dentist who is going to take you under his/her wing right after dental school; show you the ropes, coach you through tough cases and teach you how to run a successful practice? Most of us are NOT this lucky...and we have to blaze our own path and learn the hard way. This is the "norm' for dentists...which is why I want to continue to offer great training material for new dentists through Liftoff Academy and Dental CEO Program. It's like having the great private practice mentor teaching you the ropes right outta dental school. Learn this stuff early and you will be successful at achieving your goals in less time, with less stress that and more satisfaction than your peers who struggle through the early years the 'hard way'.

~ Cole Brenny DDS


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